5 Jun 2020

Geraldine farmers go to bat for endangered species

From Country Life, 2:47 pm on 5 June 2020

Award winning wagyu beef farmers Evan and Clare Chapman had planned to cut down a row of willows at their property near Geraldine until they discovered a colony of critically endangered long-tailed bats/pekapeka had made the old trees their home.

The tiny bats used to be common throughout New Zealand in the 1800s - they were once a common sight roosting under the wooden bridges across Christchurch's Avon River.

But now they have been given the highest possible endangered ranking of 'nationally critical' status. The mouse-sized bats are in the same league as kākāpō, kotuku and Maui's dolphin.

The Chapmans are now working with Environment Canterbury to protect them.

They are thrilled to host their nocturnal guests and have received funding from the Orari Temuka Opihi Pareora Water Zone committee to fence off the area and plant natives trees.

"There's a 400m stretch of willows where they hung the bat detectors and had readings every night of bat activity," Evan Chapman says.

"They are about the size of your thumb - with wings, basically. The average weight is about nine or ten grams. So they are tiny."

The colony is small - somewhere between 10 and 20 bats.

"It is quite cool knowing that there are bats here doing their thing without us having affected them too much in the past."

The crack willows, where the bats live, wreck fences and fall into a nearby creek as they age so were earmarked to be replaced by natives before the bats were discovered.

The ECan grant is helping fund the planting of "bat-friendly" trees.

The Chapmans farm about 3000 sheep and have a herd of 350 wagyu cattle. They buy in 90 kilogramme calves then take them through to finishing and, while they're on the farm, they're treated like bovine royalty.

"You've got to make sure you put everything into them so they grow and hopefully marble well, because it's the marbling score we are paid on," Evan says.

The marbling score denotes the degree of visible intramuscular fat found within the meat.

The Geraldine couple supplies the First Light meat company and Evan says most of the high scoring marbled meat goes to the US. In 2019 First Light wagyu beef was named best beef in the world by Forbes magazine.

Evan and Claire won the Wagyu Supplier of the Year award last year.